by: Michael R. Mantell, Ph.D.
Obesity is not just a problem of adulthood. Yes, nearly 70% of adults are either overweight or obese. But, sadly, approximately one out of three children between the ages 2-19 are also overweight or obese.
When I wrote my master’s thesis on obesity at Hahnemann Medical College way back in the 70’s obesity in childhood was not nearly the epidemic it is today. The rates of obesity and overweight in childhood continue to escalate. It’s an easy disease to diagnose but a very difficult one to successfully treat.
What is overweight and what is obese? A body mass index of 30 or more is considered obese. A BMI equal to or more than 25 is considered overweight.
Obesity is caused by a combination of over nutrition, inactivity and genetic predisposition. 80% of children who were overweight at age 10-15 were obese adults at age 25, according to one recent study. Another study found that 25% of obese adults were overweight as children. The latter study also found that if overweight begins before age 8, obesity in adulthood is likely to be more severe.
If you have a child who is overweight or obese, you know the pain he or she suffers. I believe it takes a family to help a family get healthy. You know that overweight and obese children are teased, discriminated against and suffer with feelings of isolation and depression. And you also know the medical illnesses this disease brings your children: cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes, as well as anorexia and bulimia. Teaching healthy living skills to your children may not be easy, but it’s just about the most important thing you can do. Before you modify your children’s lifestyle choices, you may well need to modify your own.
Here’s a game plan for you to follow:
1. Identify specific choices and behaviors in your child’s lifestyle that lead to their overweight or obesity. Inactivity? Improper Nutrition?
2. Set “SMART” goals—specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely. For example, “My child will watch TV or be sedentary and play with digital games no more than two hours a day, seven days a week.”
3. Insure your home promotes healthier choices when it comes to diet by limiting high caloric “junk-type” foods and instead, having more fruits, veggies and greater supervision over portion control.
4. Food should never be used as a reward nor withheld punitively.
5. Verbally praise healthy choices, and avoid criticism, especially derogatory name-calling. Encourage your child to be his/her best, not THE best. Nagging, coercive techniques and mealtime battles never work.
6. Parents should be positive role models for physical activity that is fun and engaging. Exercise and play WITH your children.
7. All children 2 years and older should be involved with moderately intense physical activity for a minimum of 30 minutes each day, and ideally for 60 minutes each day. PE in school does not provide enough activity and the activity it does provide does not provide for developing healthy levels of fitness in children.